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Henry Winter Davis, Civil War and Reconstruction (American National Biography)

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Jean Harvey Baker, "Davis, Henry Winter," American National Biography Online, February 2000, http://www.anb.org/articles/04/04-00299.html.

Davis supported emancipation by Congress but not by the executive, the recruitment of black soldiers, and a new constitution for Maryland that would free the state's slaves. Always a believer in the balance of powers among the judiciary, legislative, and executive branches, Davis emerged as a critic of Lincoln's wartime suspension of the writ of habeas corpus. He challenged emancipation by the president, which he considered a state matter.

His understanding of the importance of Congress led Davis, who was chairman of the Select Committee on the Rebellious States, to introduce a legislative plan for Reconstruction. Known as the Wade-Davis Bill, it was less lenient than Lincoln's plan in dealing with those who had aided the rebellion. In its final form, the Wade-Davis Bill required a majority, not one-tenth, of those enrolled after military resistance in a state ended to take an oath to support the U.S. Constitution before a convention could be called to reestablish a state government there.

The differences between Davis's bill and Lincoln's vaguer plans for reconstructing the Union suggested a growing conflict between Congress and the executive, which would continue in Andrew Johnson's administration. Davis's bill repudiated the Confederate war debt, disfranchised Confederates, and in general pointed the way for congressional programs in the late 1860s, such as the Fourteenth Amendment. Pocket-vetoed by the president, the Wade-Davis Bill became the Maryland congressman's legacy to those who opposed executive control of Reconstruction.

How to Cite This Page: "Henry Winter Davis, Civil War and Reconstruction (American National Biography)," House Divided: The Civil War Research Engine at Dickinson College, http://hd.housedivided.dickinson.edu/node/18489.